Wednesday, March 26, 2008

County adopts rules at Cachuma to prevent spread of Quagga mussel


The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors took a $500,000 step yesterday to prevent the invasive Quagga mussel from infiltrating Cachuma Lake and wreaking havoc with the ecosystem and infrastructure there.
The new regulations will add to an inspection process that has been in place at the lake since early 2007 when the Quagga mussel was first detected in waterways throughout Southern California.

Some of the new measures, which will be initiated this Friday, include washing the hull of each boat with 140-degree water before being allowed in the lake and a mandatory 14-day quarantine for out of state vessels, or boats that are stored or used in counties known to be infested with the mussel.
Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone, whose district includes Cachuma Lake, said he believes the new regulations will be effective and are a better route to take than banning all watercraft from the popular recreation site.
“Without shutting down boats completely we probably have a pretty good solution here,” he said. “By taking the precautions we’re taking, we’re very assured that we’re controlling our lake.”
The board unanimously supported the new list of regulations that are expected to cost the county $469,049 through the end of 2009, with a price tag of about $170,000 in 2010.
The brunt of the initial cost is associated with purchasing a permanent boat washing station, hiring additional employees and securing the service of a Quagga K9, which will be able to sniff out the mussel.
According to the Board’s agenda letter, Quagga mussels are a non-native freshwater mollusk that originated in Eastern Europe and were first detected in the U.S. in 1988, when they were introduced into the Great Lakes through ballast water emptied from ships.
The mussels clog waterways, undermine healthy lake ecosystems and create costly maintenance for water resource agencies, the agenda letter said.
The mussels began to make their way west when they were detected in Lake Mead and the Colorado River in early 2007. Since then, they have spread throughout the state.
Aside from the danger posed to local ecosystems, the Quagga mussel can cause extensive damage to pipes, pumps, supply systems and power plant cooling systems, the agenda letter said.
These possibilities are more than enough threat to warrant the costs associated with prevention, Firestone said.
“It is hugely serious,” he said. “I think it would be irresponsible if we didn’t take action.”
Jeff Stone, the county’s deputy director for parks, said the new regulations will go a long way toward preventing the spread of the mussel to local waters.
“This is our attempt at doing the best we can do with the best management practices available to address the problem,” he said.
Boat owners will also have to sign an affidavit that states where their boats were most recently used and where they are from.
Stone said the boat washing process is currently free, but a fee system is being discussed.
In order to prevent locals from having to wash their boats each time they enter the water, he said a launching tag will be attached to the boat and the trailer when it leaves. If the tag is broken when it returns, the boat will be washed. If not, it can enter the water without hassle.
The water at Cachuma will continue to be checked each month for the mussel, a process that has been in place for several months already.
The possibility of banning boats from the lake was an option, but according to the agenda report, would negatively impact surrounding businesses that benefit from recreation on the lake.
Ventura County officials recently banned outside boats from Lake Casitas in an effort to prevent the mussels from settling there.
“It’s an emerging urgency that’s going to happen in a lot of places and we’re fortunate that we’re one of the first to jump on this,” Stone said.

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